This Week’s Torah Portion | January 22 – January 28, 2016 – 24 Tevet – 1 Shevat, 5777
In A Nutshell
In the portion, VaEra (And I Appeared), the Creator appears before Moses and promises to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt to the land of Canaan. Moses turns to the children of Israel but they do not listen “out of impatience and out of hard work” (Exodus 6:9). The Creator instructs Moses to turn to Pharaoh and ask him to let the children of Israel go out of Egypt. Moses fears that he will not succeed in his mission and asks the Creator for a token. The Creator says to Moses that he will be as God to Pharaoh, while Aaron will be as the prophet who does the actual speaking, and the Creator will harden Pharaoh’s heart and shower plenty of signs and tokens over Egypt. The Creator gives to Moses and Aaron a staff, and when Moses casts the staff to the ground it becomes a snake. When Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh, Moses is eighty years old and Aaron is eighty-three. There are many magicians and soothsayers around Pharaoh. When Moses and Aaron arrive, they throw down the staff and it becomes a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians do the same and their staffs turn to snakes, as well, but Moses’ and Aaron’s snake swallows the magicians’ snakes. Despite that display, Pharaoh remains defiant. This is when the ten plagues of Egypt begin. This portion mentions seven of the plagues: blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, and hail. After each plague Pharaoh goes back on his word and refuses to let the children of Israel go.
Commentary by Dr. Michael Laitman
While this depiction is graphic and picturesque, it actually conveys the interior of the Torah, the true law that instructs us how to get out of the Egypt within us. The Torah does not tell us to leave one physical place in favor of another, but rather how we can free ourselves of our egos.
The portion deals with a person who is working hard and discovers that he or she is in Egypt. It also deals with that person’s desire that does not agree with being in Egypt, the ego, the essence of evil. Therefore, that person escapes from there while arguing with one’s ego. Such a person cannot tolerate the ego, fearing it might bury or kill him. Therefore, that person rises above it and begins to part from it.
There are two forces in us. The first is the ego, which is Pharaoh and all of Egypt. The other is a “protruding” point called “the point in the heart.” All our desires that are in Egypt and are fed by it while there is a “famine in the land of Canaan” (Genesis, 42:6) create an internal struggle in us. This is the war from which we seek to escape, to rise above the ego with all our desires. In fact, only Moses, the point in the heart, escapes and rises above the ego, fleeing from Egypt to Jethro and to all that there is in Midian.
After forty years, during which we grow stronger in Midian working on enhancing the force of Moses, the Creator appears to us in the burning bush. Through our inner voice we hear and comprehend that we must return, fight against our ego, and get out of it, or we will not be able to attain spirituality.Spirituality is attained only by correcting our desires, by correcting our intentions from aiming to receive—the egoistic form—into aiming to give, to love of others. We have to achieve the rule, “love your neighbor as yourself; it is a great rule in the Torah.” The point in the heart, the Moses in us, feels it is time to do it. We hear the voice of the Creator and begin to work with our egoistic desires by facing up to Pharaoh.
In that state we are completely bewildered. It is very difficult for us to stand up to our nature. Nature and the world are literally grabbing us down by our feet by showing us how impossible it is because wherever we turn, we are surrounded by our egos. These are Pharaoh’s soothsayers, his sages, beginning to discover how unrealistic is the spiritual path of rising above our ego and achieving love of others. Indeed, where do we find love others in the world? Does anyone support it? The Israel in us is a very weak force. Although it seems we can do anything through our spirituality, we can also do it, and even more successfully, through the forces of the ego.
Sometimes we prove to ourselves that we rise through the group we are building, through the good and right environment we are in. Just as Pharaoh agrees to let the children of Israel go but changes his mind and captures them, we go through ups and downs that prevent us from exiting our egos. We experience seven blows that cleanse and correct us. These are the ZAT of the degree, the seven bottom Sephirot – Hesed, Gevura, Tifferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod, and Malchut—corresponding to the seven plagues of Egypt: blood, frogs, lice, flies, pestilence, boils, and hail.
The last three plagues are like the GAR of the degree; the first three belong to the Rosh (head), not to the Guf (body) of the degree. One who goes through them becomes liberated.
In our inner work we face tough struggles, scrutinies between the ego and the point in the heart, which draws us toward freedom, bestowal, through what Baal HaSulam calls in the essays, Arvut (“Mutual Guarantee”) and Matan Torah (“The Giving of the Torah”), “from the love of man to the love of God.” This is how we emerge from our nature into the nature of the Creator.
There are only two forces in existence: the force of bestowal and the force of reception. We are immersed in the force of reception, which puts us to death, makes our lives bitter, limited, and shortens them until we have no clue as to what life is for.
Spirituality provides an answer to the question regarding the suffering in our world. We come to spirituality because of the questions, “What is the meaning of my life?”, “What is life for?” In spirituality, we constantly scrutinize these questions and through them emerge to the eternal and enlightened world. We do that despite the ego’s grip on us, which does not let go and pulls us “by our feet” back in, not letting us escape.
Kabbalah books discuss these struggles at length. This is our inner work, the reason why we study the wisdom. The light that reforms that we obtain helps us through the plagues, from one plague to the next, from below upward, toward even greater blows. The more we advance, the harder the work and the tougher the blows.
Although we feel how the evil force in us is killing us and destroying us, keeping us on the animal level, we cannot rid ourselves of it. Finally, we come to a state where we feel that unless we run now, with the help of the upper force, being saved from above, w will remain in the eng because we cannot run alone. The Creator deliberately makes it difficult for us, as it is written, “Come on to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:26) “for I have hardened his heart” (Exodus 10:1).
The Creator purposely hardens Pharaoh’s heart, our ego—the heart with all of our desires—so we would need His strength, so we would increasingly feel how we need Him and how we cling to Him so He will deliver us from Egypt.
As said above, there are only two forces in reality: the bad force, Pharaoh, and the Creator’s force, and it depends on us to which we cling. Through the war between the forces, we learn that we have no alternative but to achieve Dvekut (adhesion) through the force of the Creator. This is how we exit Egypt.
Right from the start we see that Moses comes to the people of Israel and tells them that the Creator has appeared before him, and this is why he is suggesting that they come out of Egypt. They refuse; they do not want to listen.
The refusal may strike us as odd because it would seem reasonable that the people of Israel should want to get out of Egypt. However, we should keep in mind that this is the people of Israel in exile, under Pharaoh’s rule. Had the people of Israel been in Canaan, matters would have been quite different. But in Canaan there were problems, too. There were quarrels and hunger because the will to receive was growing and could not be used anymore. This is why it is said that there was “hunger” there. Therefore, to use the desire, the people of Israel had to go down to Egypt, since only by adding the ego could they come out of Egypt with the qualities of Israel in us, the Yashar El (straight to God).
We must come out with the egoistic desire we had had, and with which we discover the spiritual world. We have nothing but our natural essence. Following the ruin, the shattering, the sin of the tree of knowledge and the rest of the sins, our nature was completely ruined. It is completely shattered, much like the world today, which is gradually discovering the crisis we are in. This is the beginning of the egoistic system that lies between us.
The children of Israel had to go down to Egypt to revive their souls. Yet, for now they are still as Joseph, as the children of Israel. They lived detached from the egoistic desires until they began to mingle with the ego. It is specifically those who study the wisdom of Kabbalah—who do what is written in the essays and follow the advice of Kabbalists in order to discover the spiritual world—who feel increasingly lower, as they strive to ascend. This state is called “the children of Israel in Egypt.”
The children of Israel had to be in Egypt four hundred years, as Abraham was told. The four hundred years are four degrees from the root—1, 2, 3, 4—or Yod–Hey–Vav–Hey, that we must be in exile in order to reveal the entire Kli (vessel) and achieve redemption with it, in a corrected Kli. In other words, all our souls will connect and discover in that connection the upper light, the Creator. This is how the soul unites with the upper force, with the light; this is the complete redemption.
First, we must mingle with our four levels of Aviut (will to receive, egoism). We spent only 210 years in Egypt, so there are additional exiles after Egypt until the measure of four hundred years is full. These days we are standing at the conclusion of that period.
It is necessary to go down to Egypt and absorb these four hundred degrees, which are like four hundred shekels of silver, the price for which the Cave of Machpelah was sold. It is a special measure of our ego, which Pharaoh symbolizes in a broken manner in the corrected soul. In the end, we bring out these Kelim (vessels) from Egypt because we come out with great substance, correct them, and discover in them the land of Israel.
Why does the Creator want us out of Egypt, on the one hand, and on the other hand hardens Pharaoh’s heart, making it more difficult for the children of Israel? We see that when people come to study Kabbalah they arrive with a great desire to learn, then feel how difficult it is, and do not succeed. They begin to “fall asleep.” Their ego grows, they yield to it and sink in it. They cannot understand that what has happened to them is that they entered Egypt. We need to keep working even when we are drowning in the ego; we must not agree to stay in it. There are also those who detach themselves from corrections and from the wisdom of Kabbalah altogether. They flow with life, perhaps with some new habits. But if one continues, goes through the great shattering, the inner blows, until one feels that it is necessary to get out of Egypt, as it is written, “And the children of Israel sighed from the work” (Exodus, 2:23), and yells inside for the upper force to pull one out, that person will come out.
The wisdom of Kabbalah deals with facts, natural laws, and the children of Israel are shown tokens such as a staff that turns into a snake. Does that symbolize something supernatural? It is an inner state we often experience. The staff becoming a snake represents incidents where spirituality and perfection appear before us. We feel that we truly understand and attain something of the quality of bestowal, we are ready to connect with others and be with them in mind and heart, “as one man with one heart,” but soon after comes the descent, like a black cloud descending on a person. In much the same way the staff and the snake alternate.
So can it be said that one’s attitude toward spirituality called a “staff” or a “snake”? Yes, this is how we are tossed around.
How did Egypt’s magicians do the same as Moses with their staffs? Our ego causes us these things to show us who is right. Just as is written in the story of Ester, when they did not know who was right, we have to decide above reason. We do not want to go out of Egypt so as to gain, but we also do not want to stay in Egypt so as to gain. That is, it comes neither from the side of reception nor from the side of bestowal. Everyone would like to connect to spirituality and attain the spiritual world so as to have everything. However, we are made to understand that in both reception and bestowal we will have no personal gain in the ego. When we advance, like the magicians of Egypt, we advance toward the Klipa (shell/peel), into bestowing in order to receive, to take for ourselves the next world, too. But bestowal means that we rise above any reward whatsoever.
What does it mean that Moses’ and Aaron’s snake swallows the snakes of the Egyptian magicians? It means that in the end we have to go with faith above reason. This is called a “staff,” and with it we go up instead of down in the importance of bestowal, descending to the vessels of reception.
Do we all experience these blows, each of us, even now? The Torah speaks of everything that happens to a person studying the wisdom of Kabbalah. The crisis that the world is in today is preparing us to understand that we have no alternatives; we must advance. Except for the children of Israel, the world will not advance according to the steps we learn in the Torah. The world advances by joining the children of Israel, as it is written, “And the peoples shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord” (Isaiah, 14:2). The whole world will need to support it.
What do we need to do in order to come out Egypt now? No, the Torah tells us that as long as we have not suffered all the blows, we cannot cry out so hard that the Creator will save us. When that happens, the upper force, the light that reforms, will influence us so strongly that we will be able to detach from the ego. From The Zohar: I Will Bring, I Will Deliver, I Will Redeem, I Will Take The Creator wished to first tell them the most beautiful—the exodus from Egypt. The most beautiful of all is, “And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God.” But He told them this afterwards. At the time, there was nothing more beautiful for them than exiting because they thought that they would never come out of their slavery, since they saw that all the prisoners among them were tied by magic ties that they could never exit. This is why they were first told what they favored most.
Zohar for All, VaEra (And I Appeared), items 52-3
It is the work of the Creator. We are not the ones doing the work, and it is not the work that the Creator does when correcting us. Rather, it is the work that the Creator does “behind the scenes.” It is the back of the neck. That is, hardening Pharaoh’s heart is the work that the Creator does so we will need Him.
Is this when we want to go out of Egypt? This is when we want to go out of Egypt, and it is also when we define that exit correctly. If you ask an ordinary person, “Why are you praying?” “What is redemption?” “What or who is the Messiah?” you will hear many answers. We all have our own Messiahs. But here we are talking about a person who needs to attain a state of Messiah, which brings one into love of others, a state of “love your neighbor as yourself,” the rule that includes all of us, since we must all be mutually contained in it, in mutual guarantee. This is why mutual guarantee is so important to us; it is as exodus from Egypt, as redemption. As long as there is no mutual guarantee, there will be no redemption. This is why we all need to work to bring it, to explain to everyone that the closer we come to this ideal, the greater our chances of exiting Egypt soon.